Adultery between married partners: A recession strategy?

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While accepted wisdom holds that adversity can bring people closer together, the recent recession has shown that, in reality, the opposite may well be the case. With finances getting stretched thin and economic pressures driving wedges between many couples, adultery seems to be be emerging as a coping strategy for many unhappy marrieds.

Ironically, the biggest stumbling block for would-be adulterers may well be cost. Although there are some prostitutes who are willing to barter for gas or snack items, professionals generally charge top dollar. While paying someone $800 to $2,000 per hour may be a reasonable expense in boom times, it is a harder sell -- so to speak -- in a recession.

A more traditional solution is semi-permanent, semi-formal relationships -- aka "mistresses." The ultimate, and most expensive, version of this trend are the traditional "kept women," who receive rent, gifts, and stipends in return for their affections. According to attorney Edward Hayes, one of New York's most notable "fixers," the recession has led to a major spike in what he calls the "High-End Girlfriend Index" (HEGI). Basically a measure of the city's priciest arm candy, Hayes' HEGI shows that the recession has forced many of the city's wealthiest men to abandon their illicit female companions.

Although recessionary pressures might be expected to increase monogamy, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the opposite has actually occurred. Financial problems are among the most common causes of marital conflict; in fact, the majority of divorced couples cite money as a cause for their eventual breakup. However, with the recession making divorce harder to afford, many unhappy couples are choosing to stay together. In fact, according to some sources, the divorce rate has reached a forty-year low.

This is not to say, however, that battling married couples have returned to connubial bliss. As Noel Biderman, founder and CEO of Ashley Madison puts it, "A major source of infidelity is marital discord. In real relationships, you tend to face real economic issues. These battles over family finances are ultimately the leading source of that marital discord. It then becomes extremely difficult to initiate intimacy when you have been at odds with your partner."

With mistresses and prostitutes becoming a recessionary casualty, would-be cheaters may be redirecting their impulses into other channels, notably adultery between married partners. There are several reasons that this sort of partner-to-partner infidelity could appeal to financially-strapped philanderers. To begin with, there is the cost: while prostitutes and mistresses can be expensive, spouses are far more familiar with the restraints and dangers of marital economics. Similarly, while traditional mistresses encourage pricey gifts, married partners may find them to be potentially-devastating evidence of an affair. Other expenses, like weekend getaways and high-priced apartments, standards of the traditional extramarital relationship, are either unnecessary or logistically unattractive for married girlfriends.

On a more cynical level, partner-to-partner adultery carries a note of mutually-assured destruction: whereas an unmarried partner could blackmail an adulterer, a married partner also has something to lose. In fact, with the recession increasing the economic pressure of divorce, married cheaters are likely to be particularly careful about maintaining the appearance of fidelity.

Noting these trends, several companies have launched websites that facilitate partner-to-partner cheating. Biderman's company, Ashley Madison.com, is foremost among these, and its growing popularity over the course of the last year suggests that the recession is spurring the adultery business. According to Google Analytics figures provided by the company, the number of unique visitors to the site has increased by an average of 6.3 percent per month over the last year. In the same period, total unique visitors have increased by 84 percent. Because of Ashley Madison's payment structure, this growth doesn't directly translate into an equivalent increase in revenue. However, the company's expanding customer base would likely be the envy of any business.

Of course, the normal caveats apply. There is no evidence that these visitors committed adultery, nor is there any clear indication of how the recession has affected Ashley Madison's revenues. However, as the old saying goes, where there's smoke, there's fire...and where there's interest, there may well be action.


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